Too Little Too Late. Can Marketing Repair the Great Sales Customer Divide?

Next time sales complain, “Marketing don’t give us enough leads” hit them with this hard fact: B2B purchasers just don’t want to speak to sales.

Within six years, millennials will make up three-fourths of the working population. 77% of millennial B2B buyers are already the primary decision-maker or key influencer in a purchasing scenario. Research indicates this new generation of buyers is cutting out the middleman when it comes to purchasing. According to McKinsey, less than 20% of buyers want to speak to a salesperson if they’re repurchasing a product.

The widening gap between how B2B customers purchase goods and how traditional sales teams are set up to secure those sales increases pressure on marketing teams. Forced to serve two increasingly polarized groups, how can marketing leaders carve out a relevant and valuable role in this new buying world?

Adapt to Thrive

To answer that question, it is important to look at the different stages of the customer’s buying clock.

Buyers are creatures of habit; they are happy with the status quo until something prompts a need to change. That’s the first stage: Why change?

If the reason to change triggers sufficient fear (i.e., there will be a negative outcome for them or the business if they don’t change), or if the change promises sufficient reward (i.e., there will be a positive outcome for them or the business if they do change), the buyer will move to the second stage of the buying clock: Change to what?At this stage, they’ll identify what they believe they need to change in order to capitalize on the opportunity or negate the threat.

With a basic criterion outlined, they’ll then look for the best supplier to deliver that solution. This is the “Change to whom?” stage.

At this point, the buyer will approach vendors. However, it’s also important to note that the customer is over halfway through the buying journey. They’re heading toward the finish line while the sales team is just warming up.

“Make the buyer want to recreate a comparable future for themselves and, by association, start to build preference for one company.”

Why Change

It doesn’t have to be this way. After all, according to CSO Insights, 43% of buyers prefer subject matter experts from their industry or third parties to help them solve business issues.

With customers giving less stock to traditional marketing tools, marketers must change tack to influence customers and prompt them to question the status quo. Marketers should strive to join the discussion, steer the conversation and influence momentum in the formative steps of the customer purchase journey by being present at new hangouts and in the new information formats customers like.

Who Decides to Change?

The average number of people involved in the B2B customer buying journey is now up to nearly seven people; each working through their own buying clock with their own questions and motivations to change or stick with the status quo.

As a result, marketers must understand the key buying personas within the customer decision-making team. The next step is to work with salespeople to identify the pain points and challenges of each persona and what these personas use as their trusted source of information. Only then should you consider entering the dialogue within these communities or locations.

Marketing content should encourage customers to look at their situation in a new light, present a positive vision of what a changed future could look like and seed questions about the potential consequences of not changing, all from the perspective of that buying persona.

Change to What?

At this stage, your marketing team must pose a solution to the question raised in the “Why change?” stage. In your materials:

– Outline a vision for the future that soothes fears or animates opportunities.

– Reassure the customer they are making the right decision.

– Move the customer from their current position of ambivalence to one where they are open to a discussion about the need for change.

This material should make the buyer want to recreate a comparable future for themselves and, by association, start to build preference for one company’s way of creating the future over another’s. This will also begin to shape future requests for proposals. So, when salespeople engage with the customer, the conversation will be shaped by the questions and answers posed by their own marketing team.

Change to Whom?

This is the sales team’s opportunity. Buyers want salespeople to understand them and their businesses. With the right marketing collateral and insight at their fingertips, salespeople should be able to:

– Personalize support for each decision-maker and show them what a solution means for them within the organization.

– Support change champions to overcome internal objections.

– Demonstrate they understand the business, understand the buyer and can deliver the insight that modern customers crave.

By moving away from the product to focus on the customer, marketing helps sales close the gap between what customers want and what the sales team can deliver. This also creates a point of differentiation and a preference for one company over another.

“Buyers want salespeople to understand them and their businesses. With the right marketing collateral and insight at their fingertips, salespeople should.”

Commit to Change

While the final leg is a sales-focused motion, it will only be successful if the other stages have been correctly executed. With a watchful eye on the customer buying clock, a well-trained, well-supported salesperson will support the customer toward making the right purchase.

While the purchase brings the customer buying clock full circle, this is only the beginning. Having secured the customer, sales and marketing teams must work together to continue to provide insight that helps the customer be successful. After all, the customer buying clock is always ticking, and the “Why change?” messages circulated by your competitors must be countered with the reassurance that sticking with your company is best.

Don’t be Late!

With just six years until millennials rule the workforce, organizations that respond to changing buyer behaviors have a bright future ahead. It requires strong marketing leadership to scout out new paths to customer engagement and new tools to integrate marketing more fluidly into the sales motion. But with change comes reward since the customer clock is always ticking. Those who can’t evolve fast enough will find themselves on the wrong side of the communication gap, unable to communicate, unable to engage and ultimately unable to survive.

This article first appeared on Forbes.com

Mark Savinson is the CEO of Strategy to Revenue, the award-winning Sales Enablement consultancy.

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